Musa al-Gharbi
Last updated: 4 August, 2013

“These ‘rebels’ seem to be playing the same role in 2013 as they played in 2011: the role of the useful fool”

Mohamed Mursi’s biggest, albeit inevitable, failure is now perhaps obvious: he was unable to significantly reform Egypt’s “deep state.” The recent coup makes it less likely that future elected officials will have the courage to even try, assuming they are ever granted meaningful authority over the state—there is no doubt where the power lies in Egypt: with the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF). And if the Brotherhood is successfully driven underground in the coming weeks, it seems unclear which other agent would be capable of counterbalancing the regime’s entrenched interests, going forward. Accordingly, the celebrations of the coup as a “people’s revolution” may be a little too quick.

For instance, it is now widely-known that the “Arab Spring” protests against Hosni Mubarak (and across the region) were largely driven by Western-trained and funded activists. It turns out that many of these same figures would go on to found the tamarod or “rebel” movement—albeit this time financed by the “deep state” and the feilool–rendering their name unintentionally ironic. However, for all the media buzz about their supposed influence, these “rebels” seem to be playing the same role in 2013 as they played in 2011: the role of the useful fool.

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In the 2011 uprising against Mubarak, these activists were manipulated by the U.S. and the SCAF, the feilool and the “deep state” played them this year.  In both cases, the mass mobilizations were exploited by Egypt’s elites to carry out actions they had committed to long before the protests broke out.  And then, as now, once the “rebels” served their purpose, the elites tossed them aside, having never taken them seriously to begin with.

The only real threats to the regime will likely come from within.

The White House cannot help tamarod by pressuring SCAF, either. The State Department’s “soft power” to influence Egypt was substantially eroded last year when the SCAF purged the country of Western (primarily American) NGO’s. Moreover, in a deal likely brokered by Shafiq during his exile in the UAE, the Gulf states have pledged $12 billion in aid to Egypt, $5 billion of which has already been released.  With this money, Egypt could afford to lose America’s $1.5 billion in annual aid. They could even afford to reject the IMF’s $4.8 billion loan and attached austerity demands and other reforms. There are growing calls among the people for Egypt to reject altogether this Western funding in order to bolster Egypt’s independence.

The U.S., on the other hand, is desperate to retain their use of Egypt’s bases, airspace, and the Suez canal; American Mideast policy relies on a stable relationship between Egypt and Israel; and facing a sequester, U.S. companies are clamoring to fulfill their defense contracts with the SCAF. Far from being in a coercive position over Egypt, the White House has not even been able to call the “transition” what it definitively was: a military coup. Nor have they had the fortitude to condemn the repeated (and likely forthcoming) massacres the security forces have committed against peaceful civilians protesting the coup. Instead, Sec. Kerry has gone out of his way to parrot the generals, affirming the military is merely “restoring democracy” in Egypt, even as Gen. al-Sisi goes on Western media boldly denouncing the U.S.  Accordingly, the large focus on how American legislators should respond to the crisis in Egypt seems largely ill-placed.

As opposed to focusing on the Brotherhood, tamarod, or the White House, the biggest wildcard may be SCAF’s leader General Abdul Fatah al-Sisi. The SCAF decrees, paired with the recent constitutional amendments, seem to lay a legal foundation for the General to become a new dictator. However, there are indications that, rather than reinstating the Nasserist regime, he may be aiming to instantiate a distinctly Islamic military autocracy. As most Egyptians are devout, conservative Muslims who want a strong role for religion in the state, such a move may be widely welcomed among the people. A cult of personality is already rising up around him as a result of the coup, likely to be buoyed by the Saudi-funded “Marshall Plan” which was recently announced.

Of course, if this is his intention, the committed Nasserist and liberal elites within the army and the “deep state” are unlikely to stand idly by and allow it—rendering reports on impassioned and long-standing divisions within the Egyptian security apparatus particularly intriguing. Analysts would be well-advised to keep their eyes trained on this space–at this point, the only real threats to the regime will likely come from within.

A version of this article was originally published by SISMEC.

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